I am nearly driven wild with the Dorcas accounts, and by Mrs. Wakefield’s orders they are to be done now.
I do hate sums. There is no greater mistake than to call arithmetic an exact science. There are Permutations and Aberrations discernible to minds entirely noble like mine; subtle variations which ordinary accountants fail to discover; hidden laws of Number which it requires a mind like mine to perceive.
For instance, if you add a sum from the bottom up, and then again from the top down, the result is always different.
Again if you multiply a number by another number before you have had your tea, and then again after, the product will be different. It is also remarkable that the Post-tea product is more likely to agree with other people’s calculations than the Pre-tea result.
Try the experiment, and if you do not find it as I say, you are a mere sciolist*, a poor mechanical thinker, and not gifted as I am, with subtle perceptions.
Of course I find myself not appreciated as an accountant. Mrs. Wakefield made me give up the book to [my daughter] Rose and her governess (who are here), and was quite satisfied with the work of those inferior intellects.
Update: The crowdfunding campaign is now closed and the book is in the final stages. It should be headed to the printer soon. Check the Playing With Math homepage for publication and ordering information.
What do mathematicians do? We play with math. What are little kids doing when they’re thinking about numbers, shapes, and patterns? They’re playing with math. You may not believe it yet, but you can have fun playing with math, too.
— Sue VanHattum, editor
We had a discussion at the end of the club on how we are all confused now, but pleasantly so, and how important it is to rejoice in confusion and to be comfortable with it. Adults often strive very hard to get rid of any and all possible traces of confusion for kids, making things dreadfully boring.
— Maria Droujkova, after a math circle exploration of infinity
All it talkes to do mathematics is opportunity, a frustrating problem, and a bit of stubbornness.
— Ellen Kaplan, math circle leader
Our own school experiences can make it hard for us to teach without being tempted to “help them master” a concept that they may or may not be ready to master. What we never learned in school was the concept of playing around with math, allowing ideas to “percolate,” so to speak, before mastery occurs, and that process may take time.
I sat in class 3 days ago and though to myself, “They need a class called ‘Math as a second language’ or MSL for short.”
It is easy to understand what a median is, or what attributes a kite has, or why is a rectangle a square but a square not a rectangle… for a minute or a day.
It is easy to temporarily memorize a fact. But without true understanding of the concept those “definitions” fade. If the foundation of truly understanding is not there to begin with then there is little hope for any true scaffolding and even less chance of any true learning.
I discovered this gem in my blog reading today. One of the secrets of great teaching:
Audrey seemed, for once, at a loss for words. She was thinking about the question.
I try to stay focused on being silent after I ask young children questions, even semi-serious accidental ones. Unlike most adults, they actually take time to think about their answers and that often means waiting for a response, at least if you want an honest answer.
If you’re only looking for the “right” answer, it’s fairly easy to gently badger a child into it, but I’m not interested in doing that.
During off-times, at a long stoplight or in grocery store line, when the kids are restless and ready to argue for the sake of argument, I invite them to play the numbers game.
“Can you tell me how to get to twelve?”
My five year old begins, “You could take two fives and add a two.”
“Take sixty and divide it into five parts,” my nearly-seven year old says.
“You could do two tens and then take away a five and a three,” my younger son adds.
Eventually we run out of options and they begin naming numbers. It’s a simple game that builds up computational fluency, flexible thinking and number sense. I never say, “Can you tell me the transitive properties of numbers?” However, they are understanding that they can play with numbers.
photo by Mike Baird via flickr
I didn’t learn the rules of baseball by filling out a packet on baseball facts. Nobody held out a flash card where, in isolation, I recited someone else’s definition of the Infield Fly Rule. I didn’t memorize the rules of balls, strikes, and how to get someone out through a catechism of recitation.
Kitten and I have been working through the lessons, and she loves it!
We’re skimming through pre-algebra in our regular lessons, but she has enjoyed playing around with simple algebra since she was in kindergarten. She has a strong track record of thinking her way through math problems, and earlier this year she invented her own method for solving systems of equations with two unknowns. I would guess her background is approximately equal to an above-average algebra 1 student near the end of the first semester.
After few lessons of Tanton’s course, she proved — within the limits of experimental error — that a catenary (the curve formed by a hanging chain) cannot be described by a quadratic equation. Last Friday, she easily solved the following equations:
and (though it took a bit more thought):
We’ve spent less than half an hour a day on the course, as a supplement to our AoPS Pre-Algebra textbook. We watch each video together, pausing occasionally so she can try her hand at an equation before listening to Tanton’s explanation. Then (usually the next day) she reads the lesson and does the exercises on her own. So far, she hasn’t needed the answers in the Companion Guide to Quadratics, but she did use the “Dots on a Circle” activity — and knowing that she has the answers available helps her feel more independent.
Do you enjoy math? I hope so! If not, browsing this post just may change your mind. Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — a smorgasbord of ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college.
Let the mathematical fun begin!
By tradition, we start the carnival with a puzzle in honor of our 62nd edition:
How many of each shape does it take to make a rhombicosidodecahedron?
Click for template.
My math club students had fun with a Polyhedra Construction Kit. Here’s how to make your own:
Collect a bunch of empty cereal boxes. Cut the boxes open to make big sheets of cardboard.
Print out the template page (→) and laminate. Cut out each polygon shape, being sure to include the tabs on the sides.
Turn your cardboard brown-side-up and trace around the templates, making several copies of each polygon. I recommend 20 each of the pentagon and hexagon, 40 each of the triangle and square.
Draw the dark outline of each polygon with a ballpoint pen, pressing hard to score the cardboard so the tabs will bend easily.
Cut out the shapes, being careful around the tabs.
Use small rubber bands to connect the tabs. Each rubber band will hold two tabs together, forming one edge of a polyhedron.
So, for instance, it takes six squares and twelve rubber bands to make a cube. How many different polyhedra (plural of polyhedron) will you make?
Can you build a rhombicosidodecahedron?
And now, on to the main attraction: the 62 blog posts. Many of the following articles were submitted by their authors; others were drawn from the immense backlog in my blog reader. If you’d like to skip directly to your area of interest, here’s a quick Table of Contents:
As for mathematics itself, it’s one of the most adventurous endeavors a young child can experience. Mathematics is exotic, even bizarre. It is surprising and unpredictable. And it can be more exciting, scary and dangerous than sailing the high seas!
But most parents and educators don’t present math this way. They just want the children to develop their mathematical skills rather than going for something more nebulous, like the mathematical state of mind.
Children marvel as snowflakes magically become fractals, inviting explorations of infinity, symmetry and recursion. Cookies offer gameplay in combinatorics and calculus. Paint chips come in beautiful gradients, and floor tiles form tessellations. Bedtime routines turn into children’s first algorithms. Cooking, then mashing potatoes (and not the other way around!) humorously introduces commutative property. Noticing and exploring math becomes a lot more interesting, even addictive.
Unlike simplistic math that quickly becomes boring, these deep experiences remain fresh, because they grow together with children’s and parents’ understanding of mathematics.
One reason to study algebra: because it’s a building block. And just as it was really hard at first to get those blocks to do what you wanted them to do, so also it can be really hard at first to get algebra to work. But if you persevere, who knows what you might build someday?
Algebra is the beginning of a journey that gives you the skills to solve more complex problems.
So, try not to think of Algebra as a boring list of rules and procedures to memorize. Consider algebra as a gateway to exploring the world around us all.
Imagine that you wanted your children to learn the names of all their cousins, aunts and uncles. But you never actually let them meet or play with them. You just showed them pictures of them, and told them to memorize their names.
Each day you’d have them recite the names, over and over again. You’d say, “OK, this is a picture of your great-aunt Beatrice. Her husband was your great-uncle Earnie. They had three children, your uncles Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo. Harpo married your aunt Leonie … yadda, yadda, yadda.
I finally got around to reading a bit of the backlog in my Google Reader. I love Malke’s blog!
I used to think that math was some kind of inaccessible, abstract magic trick, a sort of in-joke that excluded us common folk, but now I realize that math is completely not that at all. The reality of math as most of us know it is like that story where three men are standing in a dark room touching different parts of an elephant. None of them has the full picture because they’re only perceiving individual elements of the whole animal.
The reality, I’m discovering, is that math is just like that elephant: a large, expansive, three-dimensional, intelligent, sensitive, expressive creature.
The problem is that most of us have been standing around in that dark room since about kindergarten, grasping its tail, thinking “this is what math is and, personally, I don’t think it’s for me.” We’ve been blind to the larger, incredibly beautiful picture that would emerge if only we would turn on the lights and open our eyes.
Most remarks made by children consist of correct ideas very badly expressed. A good teacher will be very wary of saying ‘No, that’s wrong.’ Rather, he will try to discover the correct idea behind the inadequate expression. This is one of the most important principles in the whole of the art of teaching.
As I continue to polish the manuscript for my math games book, I’ve been looking for short quotations to put at the beginning of each chapter. I’ve gathered a lot of math quotations over the years, from my own reading and from quote-collection websites. But there’s a problem with using most of these in a book, since to do it right I would have to dig up the original source of each quote and then write a letter to the publisher for permission to use it. And pay a fee that, depending on the publisher’s sense of self-importance, can run into the hundreds of dollars. Bother!
So I went digging around my rss reader to see what sort of inspiration I could find. Bloggers love to be quoted, right? And most of them are happy to give permission via email, which makes my job ever so much easier.
Here are some of the gems I’m considering. I’d love to hear your favorite quotes from math bloggers, too — or favorite passages from your own blog. Please comment!
It’s amazing that this vision of math as “getting to the right answer on your first try” even exists. I have to make, unmake, remake so many mistakes to get where I’m going. I think all mathematicians work that way.
Somehow, a big part of the experience of math is trouble. Frustration is the status quo. But when you get something—the thrill!
I can recall the deep satisfaction I felt on the all-too-rare occasions at school when the concepts or formulas fell into place. It seemed an entirely different discipline from writing, where something arises from a blank page through a combination of hard work and patience, with a sliver of creativity.
With math, the experience is more like discovering something that’s always existed and finally decided to stop playing hard-to-get.
We have an interesting discussion going in the comments on The Problem with Manipulatives. I mentioned a vague memory of a quotation. Now I’ve found the source.
Originally published in 1970:
The continuing hullabaloo about the “new math” has given many a parent a false impression. What was formerly a dull way of teaching mathematics by rote, so goes the myth, has suddenly been replaced by a marvelous new technique that is achieving miraculous results throughout the nation’s public schools.
I wish it were true — even if only to the extent implied by entertainer (and math teacher) Tom Lehrer in his delightfully whimsical recording on “The New Math”:
“In the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer.”
… Indeed, there is something to be said for the old math when taught by a poorly trained teacher. He can, at least, get across the fundamental rules of calculation without too much confusion. The same teacher trying to teach new math is apt to get across nothing at all…
I don’t love math nearly as much as I pretend I do when I’m teaching it or blogging about it or trying to enthuse my kids.
I just believe — ever since an eye-opening university-level Mathematics in Perspective course — that math is taught VERY badly, bumbled and fumbled and as a result we have this societal fear of what is, essentially, a great big GAME.